On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Much has been written in recent weeks about the importance of taking a lunch break and how it will improve your productivity. What advice do you have for achieving the much-sought-after work/life balance?

If you’re a bus driver or a dental hygienist or a day trader, it’s easy enough to monitor your work/life balance. When you’re driving your bus, chipping away at the plaque or hunched over your terminal, you’re working. And when you’re not, you’re not.

In theory, just as the annual output of the Ford Motor Company can be measured in cars, so the annual output of an agency should be measurable in ads.

I suspect that no-one has ever done this calculation – the result would be too mortifying – but this is roughly how it might turn out. You note the number of finished ads, from all media, that the agency has delivered over the past year. You note the number of people working at that agency – let’s say 300. You multiply first by a 40-hour week and then by 50 to arrive at the total number of man-hours worked by that agency over the previous year.

Even supposing that the agency had delivered the improbable number of 2,000 finished advertisements, it would seem that each of those ads has been the product, on average, of more than 3,000 man-hours.

I know that creative people pride themselves on their perfectionism, but it is still quite difficult to understand how it could take three people working full time for ten days to make one 15-second commercial. Or it would be, if that was how it worked.

In real life, agency people are working when they’re not working; are working when they’re thinking about working; are working when (as Bernard Gutteridge used to say) they’re thinking what to put; are working when they’re not even meant to be working because, when you’re faced with a problem, the touchline of a school playing field is as good a place to think about it as behind your laptop.

Of course you should take a lunch break. It’s an excellent time to get some work done.

Should ads, agencies and our trade press feature an equal number of men and women in positive/senior roles?

I get very uneasy when advertising allows itself to get diverted from its primary purpose of making whatever products and services it features more competitively desirable. There’s something very open, almost pure, about that. You know it’s an advertisement; you know what it wants you to do or think as a result of having been exposed to it; you don’t have to wonder what it’s really getting at.

If all advertisers and agencies voluntarily agreed that, from now on, all advertisements in all media would feature an equal number of men and women in positive/senior roles, the advertising business would be collectively taking on an entirely different role – that of social engineer. And I find that an extremely spooky thought.

Even if the cause espoused – say, the promotion of gender equality – is widely thought to be A Good Thing, it’s no part of advertising’s business to espouse it.

And if the underlying reason for the advertising business agreeing to such a conspiracy in the first place is to be well thought of by commentators and legislators, that’s a dangerous precedent to set. Advertising shouldn’t – and doesn’t – need mitigation as part of its defence.

One of the facts that keeps advertising honest is that, despite those who write about advertising as though it were one great, homogenised propaganda machine in favour of reckless, feckless consumption, it is in truth fiercely internally competitive. The moment that all advertising campaigns colluded in favour of anything, however socially worthy it might seem, the automatic self-scrutiny that open competition delivers would be jeopardised.

Advertising, in toto, is never going to lead opinion – and nor should it try to. But advertising campaigns – individual brands – can spot trends and opportunities and capitalise on them. The Dove campaign must have liberated a few million women from a sense of deep shame that they didn’t look like Cara Delevingne; but that’s not why it’s been an excellent campaign. It’s been an excellent campaign because it’s doing what advertising is there to do and doing it excellently.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE